Bing Chen on the Penn Experience: Part II

Back to Part 1

Bing Chen is a creator and entrepreneur who currently runs his own content studio company: Bing Studios. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, majoring in English and minoring in psychology and marketing. (Full introduction in Part 1.)

Stories worth noting:

1) His absolute favorite professors at Penn.
2) How he hid being an English major from his parents and how to face pressure from parents.

Did you have any favorite professors at Penn?

Yes, I have several. First, Professor Angela Duckworth and Professor Martin Seligman, both of whom focus on positive psychology (PSYC 266).

Second, Professor Adam Grant: I've had dinner with him before, I’ve sat in lecture, and I wish I had taken his class. I completely understand why he’s the highest rated Professor at Wharton. (Editor's note: Grant teachers Organizational Behavior under the Management department.)

Angela Duckworth and Adam Grant.
Source: Helen Fetaw / The Daily Pennsylvanian.

In English, Professor Paul K. Saint-Amour was my favorite. He taught me how powerful it is to be able to speak and write beautifully. That man can speak and synthesize abstraction like no one I've ever met. Everything comes down to storytelling. You think about why cave paintings matter, how people reiterate the success and failures of wars — all of that is storytelling. He showed me the most prime version of that.

Then, I’d say Professor Peter Decherney is amazing. He teaches in the Cinema Studies Department. I think he's one of the foremost thinkers on fair use law which in the entertainment industry is the biggest issue right now. You have someone who's literally shaping billions of dollars worth of lawsuits and is in the Cinema Studies department.

Another one is Professor Charles Dwyer. He taught a course called “Managing People.” It’s a graduate studies class in the Annenberg School for Communication. He was the head of the Executive Education Program in Wharton. So even if he's not teaching I would look at someone else who does. He will teach you how to manipulate people like no one else will.

More importantly, he teaches you how you think about your own purpose in life and how to manifest it. That class changed my life. If I would isolate a single class that I found most valuable, it would be that, and no one knows about it because it’s a graduate level class.(Editor's note: This class doesn't seem to exist anymore. But there are many other graduate-level classes that are available to undergrads.)

What was your favorite extracurricular activity?

The Ivy Council was by far my favorite thing, and the reason why is because we were basically building an international enterprise. I forged official partnerships with the Chinese government union, and we created an exchange program where the student government leaders of the Ivy League meet with the student government leaders in China. In China, student leaders are direct feeders into the actual government. So really, the people we met with are going to be running the country some day. We know the vice chairman of the biggest media company there.

This program exists today, so it's a decade-long program. We were doing real work that has real impact, like professional entities instead of working on a small college level. It was global. That by far was my favorite. I'm convinced that experience is what got me my job [at Google].

Could you touch on your internship experiences?

I learned a lot of skills during a summer that I worked doing the creative development of feature films for Disney. It was amazing because I got to learn and observe how the industry works. My last project was Frozen — at the time it was called The Snow Queen — and that really taught me an appreciation for how cool and careful traditional filmmaking was. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of how tech works and then I realized that's exactly what I do not want to do when I graduate. I realized in that system, I would be a servant for six years and then maybe at most be a manager. In tech, I could go build something from scratch tomorrow.

I care about creativity more than ever now. But I don't want to go to the traditional system when I graduate. That was basically the lesson.

One of my friends also wants to do creative writing, except her parents want her to do pre-med or pre-law. When you decided to study English, did you face any backlash?

My parents are typical immigrant Americans. They both literally came from nothing. My father became CFO of Philips; my mother became CFO of the biggest sign-making company in the world. They’re very conservative because they came from nothing. When you're a person of color and in my mother’s case, a woman of color, you have to try twice as hard to get half as much. Of course, they did not approve of me wanting to become Walt Disney, go into entertainment, and major in English. What I did was this: I didn't listen to them.

They thought I was in political science until I got my Google job.

Don’t bend to them [your parents] because then you compromise your own dream. Have them bend to you. You have to realize it’s your life.

And at the end of the day, when they say they want you to go to law school or med school, what they mean is they want you to be safe, successful, and happy. They just don't know how that manifests for you. Once you find that success — and you will find it if you persist — they will understand that happiness and success means something different for you.

I wanted to do something different, and when you do something that's different there’s a fear that comes with that. It’s the fear that, if you fail, there will be no one to catch you. So I had to get over that too. Honestly, the best thing I can tell you is to look at why you’re fundamentally doing something. If you're willing to die for it, then it's the right thing to do.

Secondly, remember that everyone who came before you were no more talented or smarter than you are. The only distinction between them and you is that they actually went for it and they did it. Persistence is the only thing that separates those of us who are great from those who just lived.

Source: Pinterest.


Header photo courtesy of Bing Chen's Instagram.

Melinda Hu

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